Thursday, July 31, 2008
If I wanted to watch TV, I'd a stayed home.
I'm also grating at the implied notion that "more numbers" equals faithfulness.
Highlights include conversations between the Memphis Conference team about what we are to do and be as we take church renewal seriously. And ultimately, that's what's going to be most important.
Got my walk in - Grand Rapids is a good 15 degrees cooler than Memphis.
Feels like spring.
Full day tomorrow - Feeling that I should have a stronger basis to make some judgements, I'll have more detail then.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
I'm attending with a team of clergy from our Conference as we seek strategies and trajectories to help local congregations find vitality of mission of purpose again.
I'm hopeful for good results - something tangible to bring back and help instill life into my home turf - I'm realistic enough to know that most of the time these things promise far more than they can deliver.
I mean, really, how much can you get sitting in a hotel conference room?
Anyway, I'll report in through the week on what's happening. I'll share my impressions of Grand Rapids - although I'm bummed that it's too far to Detroit, and the local baseball team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, are on the road -
But there is the Gerald Ford museum!!! Oooooo - Fun!
Monday, July 28, 2008
Saturday, July 26, 2008
OK - I've seen "The Dark Knight" twice already. I saw "Batman Begins" three times in the theater, so I clearly have some affinity for Christopher Nolan's directorial vision.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
I'd wear them around the house now.
The end of August brings real possibilities. If that goal is achieved, we're talking college weight. We might think of that as my "fighting weight."
There was a time that seemed like irrational delusion. It is now within reach.
I've mixed in a daily 2-3 mile walk. I turn on my "Workout" playlist on the Ipod, and off I go. Among the artists I hurriedly step to? AC/DC, Boston, Chicago (the Terry Kath era), Van Halen (Red Rocker's era is better for walking, Diamond Dave is better for rockin'), The Who.
The stand by list, depending on my mood, is too great to list here.
Time for a daily go on the TotalGym for muscle tone.
Larger goals persist yet.
As I prepare to enter my 44th year in a few days, I want to do what I've never been able to sustain thus far.
That is, make significant weight loss not the end, but the means to the end of life patterns. If I can sustain my weight and pattern of life until my (deep breath) 50th year, I will have ingrained a pattern, I hope, to see me through the last chapters of my journey upon this earthen sod.
That's the plan.
"Possessed By Faith" the second in a series of sermons based upon Marcus Borg's "The Heart of Christianity"
What follows is a modified transcript. My intent was to carry a working outline with me, but my printer was hinky, so I couldn't get it to print out on a Sunday morning. Panic! Anyway, I did o.k. for off the top of my head, but missed some elements that are now included.The texts for today are two, and are meant to bring us our attention to other nature of faith. They come to us from Eugene Peterson’s treatment of the text in “The Message.”
The first is from Matthew 17:
14-16At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, "Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him."
17-18Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here." He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well.
19When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, "Why couldn't we throw it out?"
20"Because you're not yet taking God seriously," said Jesus. "The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, 'Move!' and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle."
The second is from James:
14-17Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
18I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, "Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I'll handle the works department."
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
This morning I want you to be willing to take the journey a little bit further down the road. If you missed last week, we’re using this little book, “The Heart of Christianity,” as lens through which we look at our own journeys – the Christian life is a journey.
If you think, in your own Christian life, where are you now in your journey relative to where you were when you started it. Which is to say, “how far down the road have you travelled.”
And today, I want that journey to go in a particular direction – from your head to your heart. In the section of the book we’ve been living with these days, Borg asserts most convincingly that faith is “the language of the heart.” It sounds wonderful. We are very good at “heart” language, but we speak about it from our heads.
We have to know what it means, where it came from, what it used to mean – and I love that stuff. You get that from me all the time. I don’t know if you love it as much as I love telling you, but there it is.
I want you to think today of faith as a heart matter, and journey from you heads to your hearts today. Now the problem that we have is that your head is going to want to be a backseat driver and tell you how to get to where you’re going.
How many of you love backseat drivers?
Disengage your brains today, just enough, to let your hearts take over.
But before we get there, let’s consider why it’s a problematic destination. Using some of the keys that Borg points toward – we understand that we are people of The Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment as been a wonderful thing. It has allowed us to see the world, discover wonderful things, it has allowed us to chart courses in life we never thought possible.
But the other side of that blessing is its curse, for it has harmed our capacity to live a “heart-full” life of faith. Because there is nothing to be known that cannot be proven. There is no thing in life to which we ascribe value unless we have mastered it. There is nothing that merits our serious attention unless we know Who? What? Where? and How?
When you’re talking about the things of God, and trying to “prove” it – good luck. For all that is great about The Enlightenment, where it can never satisfy is seeking to approach that which cannot be proven, the God who will not be named, that which we ascribe as the Divinum Mysterium.
In fact, it is so much the case that when we are asked if we have faith in God, what we find we’re really asking is if we believe the right set of claims about God. Do you adhere to the particular creed or doctrinal statements about God, and not specifically the nature and character that is God.
So, faith in God is no longer so much about relationship as it is whether or not we’ve signed on to the party line about of things that have been made a litmus test about what a “true believer” would hold about God.
What things you ask? Oh, you know, things like inerrancy of Scripture God, Virgin Births, stuff like that. To say that you have faith in God, from this point of view is to say that for God to be God these particular things, which have been told us are necessary to belief, must be true – or, the Divinity of God and the person Jesus is suspect.
When I served on the Board of Ministry, in a time of examination before ordination, I once asked a candidate whose written work indicated a staunch adherence to the aforementioned perspective, “If Jesus was not born of a virgin, is he still Lord?”
It was a “gotcha” question. I grant that. But I wanted to see both how he would handle such a question, and, if how inextricably linked doctrine was to his faith.
He paused a moment, a bit taken aback by the question, and knowing that he was on the hot seat, said,
“My answer is no.”
I wasn’t surprised by the answer. I respected it. I didn’t agree with it. And for those within the Christian tradition who live within the earlier paradigm to which Borg references, this candidate is going to serve effectively for a very long time.
Is your faith tied to that? It really is o.k. if it is, but if you are among those who part of this emerging paradigm of Christianity, how do we handle such things?
Borg suggests there is another way to cling to a life of faith that is framed not from revolution but recovery of previous understandings. So, if faith is the language of the heart, and the heart is the place we are called to go, and it is the heart in which our relationship with God through Jesus dwells – then be open to these alternative understandings of faith that have deep historic precedent.
The first of which will sound very familiar, as we've alluded to already – Faith as “assent.” But to what are we to offer our “assent?” A litmus test of theological planks, or the nature and character of God at all?
The second way to view faith prompts another word in our common language – “fiduciary,” or “trust.” A trust in God. In our heart journey, do you have trust in God, based not on what you can or cannot prove, but can you entrust your heart to something or someone precisely because you cannot prove it.
On every piece of legal tender in our country is inscribed the words, “In God We Trust.” The presupposition, at least in its purest meaning, is that very sentiment. We place our trust in the One who is more than us. However, if we really trusted in the God we say we do on our currency, then we would hope or expect that the ways we spend that currency would be in keeping with the ways the One we say we trust in would have us expend it rather than the ways we do: tax breaks for big business; no bid contracts with political cronies; and of course, war itself at the expense of our country’s under served, disenfranchised, lost and forgotten.
This God who has much to say about the plight of the widowed and the orphaned in holy scripture – do we trust in that God enough to spend in ways pleasing to God?
Another example of this kind of trust is cited in the book when Borg speaks of his wife teaching a class and asking the participants what it was like to teach a child to swim. Or do you remember when you learned to swim? Do you remember the fight that goes on between the person learning to do something so counter intuitive to what they think they should do. The key to learning to swim is to understand that you can float, and the only way to do that is to relax and let go. You can’t control the water and swim, you let go to learn how to navigate through it. That is trust, pure and simple.
You think about that and factor it into every aspect of our living in which we circulate and it is a sobering thing to consider how little trust we really show in each other and in God.
The third way to view trust in this emerging understanding is faith as “fidelity,” faithfulness in relationship. How are you faithful in your relationship to God? It occurs to me that this type of faith is tied to vows. Vows taken, kept or broken. In the vows of Church membership, we ask you to vow you prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
For any of us in a covenantal relationship, we know something of making vows. Take marriage, for example. Is the key to your marriage your vow or the relationship? Because if I hear the scriptures right and read Borg right, you know well how we can keep the letter of the law, the vow, and have no heart in the relationship. Relationships must be tended, nurtured to have vitality.
The same can be said of our relationship with God. Vows are important, but only to the degree they move us into the daily work of nurturing the character of the relationship we took vows for in the first place. Otherwise, the vows become empty words without meaningful action.
The final view of faith is “vision,” or, how we see things. And if we can see life beyond the literal we make room for the truth of God through Jesus that comes in metaphor and myth. Such things do not mean less true, and such understandings need not make us lose faith, but might instead inspire us to it. There will be more this view in coming weeks.
If we can stretch our understanding of faith, then we come to a new way of believing. Borg points out that “belief” and “belove” have the same origins. So believing does not mean that I’ve signed off of certain creedal statements, therefore I’m in. It’s really a sign, that, if I’m believing God, that I’m “beloving” God. My love is lived beloving God because I know that every breath I take and every day I have is a sign of God loving me.
In my journey to my heart, there is a trust that resides. It matters not what I deal with and endure, there is nothing that can separate myself from the God’s belovedness. Let me not separate myself the belovedness of God that I’m seeking to live through me and into the brokenness of the world.
The journey is calling you to consider the life of faith differently. It leaves many, many questions unanswered. To which I say, “good.” I call upon one of my favorite quotes from Alan Jones who said that “the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.” Because if I’m certain about all these things, I don’t need faith, and if I don’t need faith, I don’t need God.
On matters of the God, Jesus, the Church and the world, the idolatry of certainty needs to be placed aside. For Enlightenment minded folks, that’s a hard chore. Because we only like what we can prove.
But you can’t prove this stuff. You believe it, belove it, live in relationship with it, and see beyond what you think is. Then and only then, do you become “possessed by faith.”
Faith, as practiced too often, is just one more commodity.
“How much faith do you have?”
“She must have a whole lot more faith than me.”
Keep in mind, Jesus said that faith is not about quantity. It only takes a mere kernel to make a mountain move. That ain’t much, and I don’t see a lot of mountains moving, do you?
So it’s not about the quantity of your faith. It’s about quality of life, of relationship, of trust. It’s a quality that marries faith and works as they fit together “hand in glove.” Works bear witness to the quality of faith we claim to have.
As such, it’s not that you possess faith, but that faith possesses you.
Friday, July 11, 2008
So I get an email a few weeks ago from a "friend" and fellow church member inviting me to join a special St. John's group on Facebook. I've never been on "the" Facebook. It's just not a world I've navigated in.
But the thought of finding a way to continue networking with my congregation is always a good thing, so I signed up.
I signed off today. And it's not my "friend's" fault.
I just can't do it.
One. I don't understand it. No sooner had I signed up than I got requests from people wanting to be "my friend."
Fellow congregants...sure, that was the point.
Former congregants... hey, o.k. - a chance to catch up with people I've served.
Colleagues some of whom I only sorta know...uhhh, o.k., I guess so.
My own son asked to be my friend.
This whole "friend" thing. What is that?
And then it hit me. This is simply one more social system to live in, except you don't actually have to "be" with the people you're connected to. No, they just rack up in the tally of how many friends you have.
I know this says more about me than anyone else, but I didn't have a lot of folks in my life that I called "friend" growing up. The reasons for that, at the least the ones I'm consciously aware of, are varied and probably more appropriately spoken from a therapist's couch rather than a rambling blog post. Don't get me wrong, I had friends, but always in small packs.
Come to think of it, I don't really have a bunch of folks I call "friend" now, for that matter.
"Friend" is a loaded word for me. It is given by me only where trust, unconditional acceptance, and the celebration of authenticity dwell.
Those relationships holding that character for me are treasures and validate the reality of grace. That I can be loved, me, for who I am - the good, bad, and the ugly - has to be of God.
Now, I do have more than a few acquaintances. And I like some of them.
So, the "friend" thing on Facebook just didn't quite sit well - -
But for those of you who live in that world -
- Is ignoring a "friend" request a passive "no?"
- Is answering "yes" to a friend request that doesn't hold the same, shall we say, "value" to you of someone else merely suggest the appearance of civility and not what is true?
- And, does doing this in a little cyberworld make any sense whatsoever?
- What does it mean to write on a person's wall?
- Do I even want to know what it means to poke somebody?
Am I over analyzing this?
During this week as my age reaches a new number, I'm willing to accept that my inability to handle this world could illicit a response from others comparable to mine some 25 years ago when I couldn't understand how/why older folks I know and love couldn't program the clock on their VCRs that kept flashing 12:00 (For those of you too young to know what a VCR is, hit the link).
I know that many people spend a lot of time on Facebook and MySpace. I've seen it, and I saw how easily that could be me. I don't judge that time spent by others, except when it's my kids who are doing that instead of their homework.
But the truth is, I've got more than enough world to live in now, plenty enough to navigate through, and more than enough to manage. One more level of social expectation is too much for me. What I seek to do, "dearly beloved," is be more attentive to the worlds I circulate in just by trying "to get through" what the 1980's prophet, Prince, referred to as "this thing called life." (from, of course, the prologue to that glorious anthem,"Let's Go Crazy.")
So, I abruptly left the Facebook world about as hastily as I joined it.
And boy was I relieved.
Hope y'all are still my friends. Really.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
"The Heart of the Matter" the First in a Series of Sermons Based Upon "The Heart of Christianity," by Marcus Borg
The following is a transcript of my introductory homily setting the stage for what will be a series of sermons based upon The Heart of Christianity, by Marcus Borg. It comes as my first re-introduction to the congregation after having been on holiday the prior two weeks. As has been our pattern, my family spent those two weeks on the Florida Gulf Coast.Well, you never know what you'll hear and over hear when you're sprawled out on the beach. In the same afternoon, I caught snippets of two different conversations all the while I have my copy of "The Heart of Christianity" in my hands which I found I started using as a shield to cover my surprise, disgust and insatiable interest in what was going to be said next.
The first was a conversation in which a mother was talking about how proud she was of her daughter and her performance in a church play. Apparently, there's this church in Mississippi that is featuring an original production of a play written by the pastor. The play has to do with the "rapture," and this little girl who refuses the mark of a bar code on her forehead. She is declines the "mark of the anti-christ," and she is killed for her stance. At the end, though, there is triumph as the lights go bright, and she is escorted back on stage alive hand in hand with Jesus. So moving is this dramatic moment that the house erupts in tears, cheers, and applause.
And I'm going "Oy, vey, let me get this book up a little closer to my face!"
Another conversation I'm overhearing later occurs in the afternoon as Jack is playing on the beach near the water. I'm down with him as he's playing. Nearby there is this gathering of young people. 20 somethings. And they are in an animated conversation. I really wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but it was so loud I couldn't help it. When I heard the words, "PeaceCorps, " and "anti-Christian," I was hooked.
One young man was so zealous in his belief, that, while I think he's completely off base, his passion caught my attention. His argument was that people who join the PeaceCorps won't see the need in going to church, therefore, according to his logic, the PeaceCorps is anti-Christian.
And that's where we are as we start this series isn't it?
The truth is that each of us is on a journey as it relates to any and everything dealing with what it means to be a "Christian."
Some of us were born into it. One way of looking at that is to say that we didn't have any choice.
Ask any preacher's kids growing up -
Many of you were born into it - baptized into it. The Church kept is vow and provided a safe place for you to grow and know the ways of faith until such a time that you claimed for yourself the vows made for you as a child.
Some of you came to Christianity as a result of a radical encounter with God, and the Christian life is the antithesis of the one you've been living.
The revival era, at its best, captures the hearts of those whose lives are "turned around."
However it is that you touch this Christian journey, there are some things that are true. If my one afternoon on the beach is any indication, and I happen to know that is, then I have full confidence to say that I know that you know, work with, are related to, love, or struggle to love someone who calls themselves "Christian," the same word that you call yourself, but the expression of their Christianity is not one that looks comfortable, desirable, or even resembles what you understand it to be.
How is this so?
How is it so that Christianity can be so different?
Over the next several weeks, we're going use Borg's book as a guide to try to figure that out. We're not here to worship Marcus Borg, please spare me. But we are going to let his points shine light on our questions. And as I have done with my previous sermon series, especially when employing a book, I come into with several assumptions based upon my years in ministry and my own practice of Christian faith.
I'm guessing, assuming, that you and I, at various points in our journey, maybe even right now, find that we are not the "Christian" we were, and we wonder if that's good or not.
In fact, if the consideration of our Christianity, we compare it someone else that we know. Am I as "Christian" as she is?
Am I "Christian" enough to do "X?"
We measure our Christian faith against someone else. And when we do that, we rob ourselves on the moment of "now" to recognize the God that is and the God that seeks to be in each of us.
We're going to talk about some fundamental things over the next several weeks. Faith, the Bible, Jesus, God, What a Christian life looks like.
If you've ever wondered to yourself about how Christianity can be so broad, and that broadness is the stuff of constant, incessant infighting, this series can lead you in that. It'll be a bit abstract at times, but if that's where your journey takes you, then that's o.k.
But I really want to push you to consider your personal journey.
How can I, six weeks from now, know something different about my relationship with God, through Jesus, that I don't have right now, and how can that feed me and motivate me in the dailyness of my living.
The only quote from Borg, other than the spiritual reading shared earlier, is this one, and it is my prayer that six weeks on this line is true for you:
"The Christian life is about relationship with God that transforms the present."
I belief that is the "heart of the matter."
A Christianity that only considers what will be one day, that disregards the present for concerns of the afterlife and not think about the transformative moment that is now misses the boat, and is not hearing Jesus.
In how much of your Christian journey do you seek the transformation of this moment?
This moment becomes different.
This moment becomes "grace-full."
That this is the moment we can tap into what Peterson's treatment of Matthew describes so well as the "unforced rhythms of grace."
If we can get to that place, were the transformative power of now pervades our hearts, then there is no room for argument and conflict within the Christian family. That doesn't mean we all have to think just alike. We don't all have to be "Christian" alike. But we do embrace what is in common - God, Jesus and that prime moment of now to make a witness of extraordinary love to cast out all our fear.
And we need to come to this place. Because do you know what's going on as the Christian community argues among its own? People, those ordinary people that Jesus revealed himself to, are struggling to figure out how to make it, how to pay their rent, buy their gas, how they're going to survive, how they're going to be in community and if there will even be a welcoming community there at all to provide them sanctuary.
Real people with real issues. That's who Jesus came for. Right here. Right now.
That is the heart of the matter.
Don’t know if that’s the best thing, but it’s what we chose.
Our kid is very bright, and while he didn’t talk about Felix a bit for almost two weeks, the night before we were to load up and come home from vacation, he came up to me, unsolicited and unexpectedly, and said,
“I think when we get home our cat’s going to have missed us.”
Oh, here we go.
I almost think he'd known all along and thought it was time to broach the subject we were avoiding. A little later Kristy and I sat with Jack out on the dock at the cottage, overlooking the little lake that is the daily stuff of our fishing for brim and bass and the surface on which the little RF controlled boats do battle.
“Jacky,” I said, “you know how sick Felix was, right?”
A head nod yes.
“Well, Felix died.”
“When?” he asked.
“Just before we left for vacation.”
I was thankful he didn't ask "how."
The realization that Felix was gone hit him and his reaction hit me. The reality of loss, any loss, has a particular look, and little six year old eyes hold the sadness in a way that was hard to watch. He welled up, hung his head – and then, as if on cue, and as Kristy predicted, he said, “Well, can I have another pet?”
“Yes, we’ll talk about that when we get home.”
“When I can I have another pet?”
“One of these days,” I said. “Let’s give it some time.”
“How much time?”
I swear, that kid wears me out! And I have little doubt the sounds of a little animal will fill our house again before long.
I’m holding out hope the sound will be a whimper and a bark, and not a purr and meow.
But of course, it’s all about the kids, right?